Looking at the past, recovering for the future

By Courtney Lane - bio - email

Posted by Ellen Krafve - email

Tyler's downtown fire also burned something you really can't put a dollar amount on. History. The legacy of, not just Tyler, but East Texas itself.

The buildings that were gutted by the fire were built back in the 1880's and 1890's and housed much of what Tyler was founded on.

Digging-up old city directories at the Smith County Historical Society, we found out many businesses got their start there. Including Swann's Furniture, Murphy's Jewelers, and Tyler's first Brookshire Brothers opened-up shop there in 1928.

"We had numerous drug stores, numerous variety stores, numerous upscale men and women's clothing stores, all sorts of stores downtown," said Mary Jane McNamara with the Smith County Historical Society. "The square was the heart of activity."

In 1898, Tyler men were photographed before heading off to the Spanish American War.

"[They] joined Theodore Roosevelt's rough-riders right in front of those buildings," explained McNamara.

Some photos show Red Cross ladies in front of those buildings, aiding men returning from the first world war. So much history, but also so much work and craftsmanship.

"Bricklayers worked like dogs and people carried hods of bricks on their shoulders to go up there to those who were building," said McNamara. "It's sad to think about all the hands and I just really could have cried."

For today's businesses, the fire meant decades worth of files and paperwork, gone up in smoke. Attorney Dan Hurst made back-ups, but it won't do him much good.

"The most recent back-up I did, I put on disk and then I left it in the office like a fool," said Hurst.

Nothing is left to do now but start-over from scratch.

"Nobody has been hurt," said Hurst. "It's just stuff and we just put one foot in front of the other every day's a new day."

The City of Tyler is already pulling in resources for the property owners. They said they've notified the Texas Historic Commission and Historic Preservation Office.

They said that they are confident they'll be able to salvage, rebuild, and move forward.